At sixth form, I met a girl called Frankie. We were in the same form group and shared several classes. We had lots in common and got on well. Even so, it took a long time for our friendship to move beyond the walls of the college. I distinctly remember being too scared to ask her if she wanted to meet up outside of lesson time, say in the evening or at a weekend. At university, I was in lots of seminars with Natalie and Claire, and got on brilliantly with them, but only started to socialise with them after unexpectedly bumping into them in the pub. Ditto during my Masters, when Caroline and I spent a term merrily chatting away in academic settings but nowhere else until we cemented a bond on a course Christmas party.
A similar scenario has been reenacted countless other times too, and I’m sure I’m not alone in having this experience. Why is it that when we meet someone that we like platonically, it can be as hard to start a friendship as it can be to begin a romantic relationship? In fact, I think friendships are harder to ignite. At least there’s an established discourse to romances. With dating, we have expectations and conventions, however vague and malleable. Plus society is geared up for the formation of new couples. There is nothing comparable for beginning a new friendship as an adult. To walk into a bar and randomly meet someone who you end up marrying is pretty unremarkable, yet the idea of going into a pub and striking up a friendship (as opposed to mutual outfit appreciation or complaints about the weather in the toilet, those fleeting moments of connection) with a stranger seems almost alien.
I say this because this week I’ve been brave and made a “friend date” (I’m sure there must be a term for this, like “frate”, only that sounds too much like something to do with haulage). At the talk by Sally Brampton that I went to on 3rd May, I met a lovely woman who I hit it off with immediately. After just a few minutes chatting, it felt like we had gone to the event together. Afterwards we swapped email addresses and had sent each other a message saying we should meet up again. But taking the plunge to actually arrange something still felt daunting. I guess one is vulnerable at the start of any relationship and the fear of rejection just as strong whatever the premise. However the prospects are equally exciting too. The journeys that our friendships take us on can be amazing, life altering and long lasting – I’m gazing at a “save the date” card for Caroline’s wedding next year as I type. Over seven years on, I can say the risk was well worth it in that case. And why shouldn’t it be again?